Friday, April 18, 2014

Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller

Reviewed by Kristin

The landscape and people in Murder and Moonshine seem very familiar, and with good reason:  author Carol Miller has set her debut in southwestern Virginia.  Pittsylvania County is mentioned frequently, so that’s a little bit further east than Bristol, but the descriptions of curving mountain roads and hardworking people ring true.  I picture the landscape to be similar to northern Washington and southern Russell counties.  In and out of the hollows over rough roads which might be washed out by a creek—it might not be fancy, but it certainly is home.

Daisy McGovern’s roots grow deep in her little town.  She is recently separated from her husband Matt and works as a waitress at H&P’s diner.  Hank runs H&P’s, although he and Daisy’s daddy started it together years ago.  Daisy and her mother, Lucy Hale, live at a B&B run by Aunt Emily. Aunt Emily is quite the character—even though she’s getting up there in years, she usually has her rifle on hand to scare off any unwanted wildlife of the critter or human variety.

The story begins with Frederick Dickerson stumbling into the diner just before dying.  Fred had been the unofficial tenant at Fox Hollow, Lucy’s family’s old homeplace, which seems to be of great interest to ATF agent Ethan Kinney and some other big city fellows.  Ethan is concentrating on investigating Fred’s death, and somehow seems to turn a blind eye on all the illegal moonshine being distilled and consumed in plain sight.  Fortunately he has Daisy to guide him around the roads that his GPS just can’t manage.  Daisy’s not quite an eager helper, but she figures that it’s better to show Ethan around instead of letting him stumble into things that might best be kept secret.

Rick Balsam is the local bad boy who is right around Daisy’s age.  He and his brother Bobby live in two decrepit trailers, but Rick has other aspirations as well.  Rick makes moonshine and he supplies most of the community, including local law enforcement.  Of course, even though Daisy can’t stand the sight of Rick, it’s pretty obvious that there is some attraction involved.  Throw in Ethan of ATF infamy, and Daisy is surrounded by good-looking men who are all the most infuriating and intriguing romantic possibilities in town.

This is a very promising beginning to what looks like a new mystery series.  While there are hints of romance, the mystery is what remains front and center throughout the book.  There were some repetitive phrases near the beginning that I found annoying—people were always sucking their teeth!  (Fortunately they stopped doing that.)  I believe that Miller has written a great debut with interesting characters placed in a relatable setting for readers in Appalachia and beyond.

Jeanne's two cents:  I read this book based on a couple of recommendations from people, including Kristin.  One aspect I enjoyed is that Daisy never stops to explain mountain culture to the reader, unlike many other books set in this region.  Things are the way they are.  When an explanation is made, it's to Ethan the outsider and the attitude is more "if you'd pay attention, you could figure this out" than apology for the area's quirks. I think this is definitely a series to watch.

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